No example would be more apropos than Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. If one were so inclined (as I appear to be) to parallel the development of Sacred Tradition and Scripture with the development of the Rudolph saga from folk song (oral tradition) to the height of the tradition's development, the similarities are staggering. As biologists like to say, ontogeny recapitulates philogeny.
As many of the early prayers and hymns included in the synoptic gospels came down through oral tradition, so the Rudolph saga begins. In 1938, Robert May pens a poem, which Johnny Marks later turns into song and Gene Autry records. But the good news of Rudolph's triumph must evolve and be passed down in a new form, one geared toward reaching a broader audience.
In 1964, Rankin-Bass produces a stop-motion animation of Rudolph's story: "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." It airs for the first time on December 6, 1964, coincidentally enough on the feast day of another famous personality and avid fighter of heresies, St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.
But like all stories of good news, some would later appropriate and divert from the teaching of Rudolph story. The first step is a nod toward paganism in 1976, "Rudolph's Shiny New Year." As time progresses, the story of Rudolph becomes mired in mysticism, secret gnosis, and just a touch a nationalistic fanaticism in "Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July." And finally, bogged down by political correctness and blatant materialism, Goodtimes Entertainment releases the first CGI-animated sequel, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys," in 2001.
With the true message of Rudolph leached of its original depth, the antlered icon is ripe for reification by postmodern revisionists. Where our original hero is a gentle soul, a cynical postmodern recasting posits a violent "Raging Rudolph," a mafioso wannabee, who overcomes to become "The Reinfather."
Not to be outdone in its depth of moral despair, "A Pack of Gifts Now" gives us a story of Rudolph with a Christmas heart of darkness, Scorsesi style.
The horror. The Ho. Ho. Horror.
The development is clear. Once a message of good news to all is proclaimed, it is twisted and transformed into a promise of enlightenment for the few. When that distortion loses its charm to the masses (and its lucrativeness), opportunists appeal to the baser material instincts of the masses, only to finally reach a nihilistic endgame. It is a sad indictment, but an all too common one.
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (TV special)." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 22 Dec 2006, 23:28 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 26 Dec 2006